Gender stereotyping has recently become a source of friction in the workplace.
Most frequently it involves situations where an employee dresses or behaves
in a non-traditional manner, especially where questions over sexual orientation
arise. As a result, gender stereotyping claims have increasingly led to
litigation, usually involving cases where plaintiffs allege that they
were disciplined or terminated because they failed to adhere to commonly
accepted gender norms. Such actions are a form of sexual discrimination
which is prohibited under Title VII.
Another type of gender stereotyping exists when females are perceived as
not adhering to supposedly normal gender norms, as for example when she
is accused of being overly "aggressive", in other words, behaving
like a man. Aggressive behavior may be applauded for male employees, but
when displayed by female co-workers, it can be viewed as bossy or otherwise
inappropriate. When this difference in perception leads to different outcomes
in terms of performance evaluations, litigation can result.
Potter v. Synerlink Corp., a new unpublished decision from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Stacey
Potter was the only female regional salesperson for Synerlink. After several
years of top sales and lauded performance, she began clashing with management
over her reluctance to give up accounts to a newly formed sales territory.
These disputes ultimately led to her termination, and she sued for sex
discrimination, claiming that male salespersons had voiced similar objections,
but had not been terminated as a result.
A lower court ruled in favor of Synerlink, but the Tenth Circuit Court
of Appeals reversed. It rejected the employer's contention that Potter
was fired for not being a "team player." She introduced testimony
from multiple male sales managers who disclosed that they had argued with
management over changes in sales territories and customer assignment.
These disputes led to negotiation and compromise, rather than termination.
The takeaway? If you are a female working in a male dominated workplace,
be aware any difference in the way male employees are treated compared
to the females. If you are terminated due to what you believe are trumped
up reasons, it may actually be because you don't "fit in".
That could be considered sexual discrimination under Title VII.
This does not mean that the employer terminated the plaintiff due to her
gender, but it raises the possibility that the stated reason for her termination,
not being a "team player", was just a pretext, and that a jury
might find that the actual reason was sex discrimination.